For roughly 100 years, there was only one way to make a phone call: through a landline, a network of copper wires that physically linked homes all over the world. If you wanted a phone in your home, you had to tap into these wires, and you had to pay whatever the phone company was charging for the service.
Toward the end of the 20th century, that began to change. First, mobile phones became available to the public in the 1980s. Then, the first VoIP (short for voice over Internet protocol) services appeared in the 1990s. And by the late 2000s, analog telephone adapters (ATAs) such as magicJack made it possible to make VoIP calls over your home Internet connection without any need for a monthly phone bill.
Slowly but surely, these new technologies began to take the place of traditional landlines. According to the National Health Interview Survey, the number of American households with a landline phone dropped from about 85% in 2007 to less than half in 2019. Only 40% of American adults and 30% of children now have access to a landline phone at home.
If youíre one of those 40% of Americans still using a landline, youíve probably wondered if you really need it anymore. If more than half of all Americans can do without one, could you do the same?
The answer is yes ñ probably. Mobile phones, VoIP, and ATAs all have their advantages compared with a traditional landline, but they have disadvantages too. So it makes sense to look at all the options, and weigh the pros and cons, before deciding to cut the cord.
1. Going Mobile-Only
Cellphone Mobile Portable Group Texting
Anyone who was around in the 1980s can remember how bulky, heavy, and expensive the earliest cell phones were. They had the approximate size, shape, and heft of a large brick, and you could only talk on them for about half an hour at a time between charges ñ if you could maintain a connection for that long. Only high-powered executive types ever carried them, and they paid thousands of dollars for the privilege.
Today, all those problems no longer exist. Modern mobile phones are lightweight, have long-lasting batteries, and can maintain a connection almost anywhere ñ and they cost hundreds of dollars instead of thousands. That makes using a cell phone as your primary phone a practical and increasingly popular choice.
If you want to ditch your landline and rely on a mobile phone, you have plenty of providers to choose from. However, there are big differences in cost between providers. The three biggest carriers ñ AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon ñ all charge fairly hefty rates for a plan with unlimited talk, text, and data. If you want the fastest and most reliable 5G service, the cost will be still higher.
If youíre looking for a cheaper cell phone plan, you have several alternatives:
Limited-Use Plans. If youíre willing to accept limits on the amount of data you use each month, you can get service from the three major carriers for slightly less than their unlimited plans. All three carriers offer plans that provide unlimited talk and text, plus a limited amount of wireless data, for slightly less their unlimited plans. (To get this deal from T-Mobile, you must choose a prepaid plan.)
Discount Brands. The major operators also own and operate budget-priced brands that use exactly the same networks under different names. AT&T owns Cricket, T-Mobile owns Metro by T-Mobile (formerly MetroPCS), and Verizon owns Visible. All these providers offer unlimited plans, and some have limited-used plans as well. However, theyíre not always cheaper than the carrierís regular plans, so check before you buy.
Major MVNOs. Mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, are smaller cell phone carriers that donít operate their own networks. Instead, they lease cell coverage and data bandwidth from the major carriers. Major MVNOs include U.S. Cellular, Consumer Cellular, Straight Talk Wireless, Tracfone, Google Fi, and Republic Wireless. Plans from the major MVNOs arenít always cheaper than those from the big four carriers and their sub-brands, but some of them can provide limited service for about half the price.
Smaller MVNOs. In addition to the major MVNOs, several smaller brands offer even lower prices. For instance, Mint Mobile, Unreal Mobile, Red Pocket Mobile, Simple Mobile, and Tello all provide unlimited talk and text, with varying amounts of data, for significantly less than the major carrier. If your phone use varies from month to month, you can choose SpeedTalk Mobile or Ting, both of which charge you only for the amount of talk, text, and data you use in a given month. And FreedomPop offers unlimited talk and text with minimal data use completely free of charge, though youíll get dinged with a fee if you go over your data limit.
Internet Company Plans. If you subscribe to broadband Internet service from Xfinity, you can add an Xfinity Mobile phone plan with either limited or unlimited data for a fairly reasonable price. Likewise, Spectrum Internet customers can get a limited or unlimited plan from Spectrum Mobile.
Advantages of Going Mobile-Only
The benefits of going mobile-only include:
Simplicity. Assuming you already have a mobile phone, making it your primary phone is the simplest way to get rid of your landline. You can discard the old service without having to add anything new. Youíll have only one phone number to remember, one phone bill to pay, and one set of contacts for all your calls.
Accessibility. When your mobile phone is your primary phone, you always have it with you. All your friends can reach you at any time, and vice versa. You can even take it with you on vacation instead of checking your home voicemail every day to see if you missed any calls.
Extra Features. Your cell phone allows you to communicate in ways your landline phone doesnít. You can pass along a quick message by text or email instead of calling and getting tied up in a half-hour chat. You can also engage in video calling and even share photos and documents with your friends as you talk.
Potential Savings. If you already rely on your cell phone for most of your calls, thereís no point in paying extra for a landline you hardly use. Even the most bare-bones landline service has some basic monthly charges that you canít eliminate without dropping it altogether. So thereís a good chance you can save money by relying on your cell phone only ñ although, as youíll see, thatís not a guarantee.
Disadvantages of Going Mobile-Only
Going mobile-only isnít the best choice for everyone. It has several disadvantages, which for some people could outweigh its benefits. These include:
Potential Costs. Dropping your landline phone service wonít necessarily save you money. If you currently get your landline as part of a bundle with other services, such as high-speed Internet and cable TV, keeping your bundle could actually be cheaper than buying those other services separately. Moreover, if you currently have a limited-use cell phone plan, relying on your mobile phone as your only phone might require you to upgrade to a more expensive unlimited plan. You could also pay more for international calls, which arenít covered on all cell phone plans.
Call Quality. According to Consumer Reports, calls made on landline phones ñ corded or cordless ñ generally sound better than cell phone calls. As PC Magazine explains, call quality on a cell phone depends on having both a good codec ó the method of converting voice to a digital signal ó and a good network. With a poor codec, consonants sound muddy rather than crisp. With a poor network, you can get a weak signal, resulting in dropped calls, interruptions, or staticy-sounding audio. Mobile phone networks offer good coverage across most of the country, but thatís no help if your own home happens to be one of the places where you canít get a clear signal.
Emergency Calling. If you need to call 911 in an emergency, a landline phone is the most reliable way to do it. When you call from a landline, the dispatcher can tell exactly where youíre calling from even if you donít have a chance to give the address. With cell phones, dispatchers have to find your location through GPS, which is less accurate. It can show what building youíre calling from but not which specific apartment. Thereís also the risk that a dead phone battery or a weak signal will keep you from reaching 911 quickly, costing you precious seconds.
No Extensions. When you have a landline, itís easy to put extensions all over the house so that you can always get to a phone quickly. By contrast, when your cell phone rings, you have to get to that one phone and pick it up before it goes to voicemail. Itís also easier for that single phone to get lost, stolen, or knocked out of commission by a dead battery.
Less Privacy. As noted above, having just one phone means you have just one phone number ñ but that isnít always an advantage. When you have multiple numbers, you can give one number to business contacts and reserve the other for your closest friends. But if your cell phone is your only phone, you have to give your cell number to everyone, even the people youíd rather not get calls from everywhere you go.
Is Going Mobile-Only Right for You?
To decide if going mobile-only is the right choice for you, here are some questions to consider:
Where Do You Use Your Phone Most? If you already do most of your calling on the go, then it makes sense for your mobile number to be your only number. However, if you spend most of your time on the phone at home ñ for example, in a home office ñ itís nice to have a reliable home phone with good sound quality. Itís particularly important if you have any trouble getting a cell phone signal inside your home.
Do You Have Any Medical Conditions? Accurate 911 location service is more crucial if you have any medical conditions or disabilities that make a medical emergency more likely. In a CBS article, Trey Forgety of the nonprofit National Emergency Number Association recommends landlines for people with medical conditions who live alone.
How Much Does Audio Quality Matter? For most people, the audio quality on a cell phone is good enough to understand the other person on the line. However, the better sound quality of a landline phone could be important if you have hearing loss or if thereís a lot of background noise in your home.
Will It Save You Money? Having just one phone is a money-saver for many people, but not for everyone. Before taking the plunge, figure out how much youíll actually save if you ditch your landline and how much more you might have to spend on cell phone service.
Getting the Best Deal
If you decide that going mobile-only is the right move for you, look for a plan that gives you the most bang for your buck. Figure out how much time you actually spend on the phone each month, and then look for a plan that covers that amount of usage for the lowest possible price. A 2019 article in PC Magazine recommends suitable cell phone plans for different levels of service and cost.